It is easy to indulge in wishful thinking when making a major decision. Fred Kagan puts the facts squarely before us as far as national security is concerned ("Security Should be the Deciding Issue," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31, 2008).
Making war and defending America's interests as Commander-in-Chief has been the occupation of every President since Herbert Hoover.
After FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower led the war in Korea that ended up shaping East Asia and the global economy profoundly.
John F. Kennedy's ill-fated efforts in Cuba shape Central America and the Caribbean to this day. He also made key decisions regarding Vietnam, followed, of course, by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. These decisions had major effects on American security and also helped launch a social revolution within the U.S.
Jimmy Carter's disastrous hostage rescue operation in Iran had profound implications for the U.S. there and throughout the region, as did his reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Ronald Reagan's failed policies in Lebanon in the early 1980s, leading to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983, shaped the nature of American involvement in that key region, and also the perception of the U.S., for two decades. His attack on Libya, on the other hand, effectively ended a significant terrorist threat to the U.S. It also laid the basis for the elimination of Libya's WMD program after 9/11.
George H.W. Bush fought in Panama and Iraq. Bill Clinton, who took office promising to focus "like a laser beam" on the economy, led U.S. forces to humiliation in Somalia, ineffective, pinprick responses to al Qaeda terrorism and to Saddam Hussein's provocations, and to large-scale conflict in the Balkans. The current administration inherited ongoing military operations in the Balkans and almost immediately confronted the consequences of President Clinton's policy failures in Afghanistan on 9/11.
The next president will not break this string of fighting presidents. He will inherit two ongoing wars involving more than 180,000 troops. He will face two global enemies -- al Qaeda and Iranian terror networks, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps/Quds Force and Hezbollah.
Kagan destinguishes "enemies" from "threats." It is not a speculation, but a certainty, that the next President will be confronted by not only enemies (al Qaeda and Iran, people who are presently killing our people), but also threats (Pakistani instability, Russian adventurism, North Korean nuclear proliferation, and so on).
He reminds us also that whereas the management economy is the business of the Congress, the President, the Federal Reserve and the courts, it is solely the responsibility of the President to safeguard American lives from foreign danger.
"When people feel relatively safe, they vote their pocketbooks. When they feel endangered, they vote for security. The world today offers no reason for Americans to feel safe. If we want safety, we have to be ready to fight for it."
McCain is the fighter. Obama is not. Cast your vote.